JUDY WOODRUFF: For Jarrett Lucas, raising a family is something
to look forward to...
LAKEESHA PERRY: We all have to find our own thing that's important to us.
JUDY WOODRUFF: ...what's important to 23-year-old LaKeesha Perry
is balancing her children's needs with her own hopes and dreams.
Pregnant with her first child when she was just 14, LaKeesha is
raising three children, ages 8, 2 and 8 months, by herself. She
lives in a small, two-bedroom federally funded low-income townhouse
outside Detroit, Mich.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Tell me about a typical day for you.
LAKEESHA PERRY: I probably get up around 3, 3:30.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In the morning?
LAKEESHA PERRY: Yeah, and do whatever, studying or whatever I have to do far as the house or anything like that. I got to get them dressed, bottles, diapers, homework. Gettin' out the door at like maybe about 6:20. And off to day care. And then off to work, at Focus Hope or at the internship at GM. Then it's off to school for me. Six o'clock I go pick the kids back up. Feed them. Bathe them. And, it's back to bed at around 8:30.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And then, what does LaKeesha do?
LAKEESHA PERRY: I try to straighten up whatever they have destroyed. Then I'll go to bed for a li'l while. (Laughter)
JUDY WOODRUFF: With the help of Focus Hope, a nonprofit training program, LaKeesha interns at General Motors and is taking classes for credit toward an engineering degree at Wayne State University.
Life as a teenage, single mother
JUDY WOODRUFF: What was your reaction when you found out that you were pregnant?
LAKEESHA PERRY: Nothing. I really--no clue. Really no clue. I just knew my life was about to change.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, what was your mom's reaction?
LAKEESHA PERRY: Sad. She was really sad.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Did she give you advice at that point?
LAKEESHA PERRY: Yeah. She said, you know, "You'll make it. You'll be okay." She always said that, "You'll make it. You'll be okay." And-- my dad, we had-- me and my dad, we didn't talk much during this time. And—
JUDY WOODRUFF: What was his reaction?
LAKEESHA PERRY: Disown me. (Laughter)
JUDY WOODRUFF: He seriously did.
LAKEESHA PERRY: Yeah, yeah. He was like, you know, "No, I don't want any part in it." You know, but he came—
JUDY WOODRUFF: How did that make you feel?
LAKEESHA PERRY: I guess I just dealt with-- this is the consequence of what I did.”
JUDY WOODRUFF: With her parents divorced, LaKeesha shuttled back and forth between various homes.
LAKEESHA PERRY: Sometimes I would go to my mom's. I'd try at my sister's house with my dad. I tried with Jonathan's dad. And, sometimes my only peace was to just go in my mom's driveway. Park the van and just go to sleep 'cause it just was -- it just was not comfortable nowhere. So, sometimes I'd just do that.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You'd take your van and park it where?
LAKEESHA PERRY: In my mom's driveway.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, where was the baby?
LAKEESHA PERRY: He'd be in the car with me.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, you'd spend the night?
LAKEESHA PERRY: Mm-hmm.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Did you feel safe?
LAKEESHA PERRY: Yeah, I felt safe, it just was…
Generation Next and abortion
JUDY WOODRUFF: Before her first pregnancy, LaKeesha was encouraged to abstain from sex through classes in school but was not aware of birth control options. Later, she occasionally used various forms of contraception, including birth control pills, but dropped them due to side effects.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Very personal question, but did you ever think about ending your pregnancy? Any one of them?
LAKEESHA PERRY: This was a question that came into play with my first child and when we went to the doctor and they did the ultrasound, after seeing it, just couldn't do it.
SCOTT KEETER, Pew Research Center: What we find is that young people today probably are a little more conservative on abortion than their elders. And for most people there are conflicting considerations about the morality of it versus the legality of it.
It may be that the culture is suggesting that abortions should be legal or at least available to women under certain conditions, while people's religious and social upbringing may suggest to them that it's really immoral. And people struggle with that.
Future career and family plans
JUDY WOODRUFF: What would you like to have happen now in your life?
LAKEESHA PERRY: Once I finish my bachelor's degree, I definitely want to start working in manufacturing. And then I would like to start establishing, you know, a stable place for me and my children, you know, for them to grow up and go to high school, middle school and all that stuff. And somewhere along that line, I would like to go back to school to get my masters degree in business. And, I don't know. Marriage and all that stuff, I guess it will just come. But, I'm not really set on getting married. But --
JUDY WOODRUFF: Why not?
LAKEESHA PERRY: I don't know. I guess once my kids are -- they're grown and, you know, that's the hard part. The kids. And, I've done this part by myself. (Laughter) So, at this point, I don't feel like I'm willing to sacrifice my own happiness for it. I'm not going to change me to, you know, so that they can have a dad or, you know.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Across the socioeconomic spectrum, some young women say, while they prefer to have a child after they marry, a husband or partner is not required.
SCOTT KEETER: They are very much open to the idea of having children outside of marriage. They don't necessarily say that it's a good thing, but majorities either say that it's a good thing, or that it doesn't really matter. And you don't find that in older generations.
JUDY WOODRUFF: LaKeesha's early pregnancy runs counter to her generation. The number of teenage births has dropped to a record low among Gen Nexters.
NEIL HOWE, author of "Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation": The impressive bottom line is this absolutely unexpected and dramatic decline in teen pregnancies in a culture which is more than ever telling kids to be sexual. And I think that's quite an achievement for which this generation practically gets no credit whatsoever.
JUDY WOODRUFF: If you had to go back and talk to LaKeesha when she was 14 years old, would you say anything to her about doing any -- making different decisions or not?
LAKEESHA PERRY: No. No. I think it's made me a stronger person. It's like, I -- I don't -- I don't say "can't" anymore. I can't -- you know, it's like, it's out of my vocabulary. You try. Try your best.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Still, the demands of single parenting can leave little time for much else.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Here you are, 23 years old with three kids. You're working. You're studying. You have children. What do you do for fun?
LAKEESHA PERRY: Nothing? I like peace. I like quiet. Some of my friends they -- I mean, they understand I have so many responsibilities. But, they're like, "You're such an old lady. You need to get out and do somethin'." But, if I could just have a moment by myself, that is like the best fun for me.